Oregon became the third state to fully legalize marijuana Tuesday, while Washington, D.C., residents will soon be allowed to grow and possess pot without fear of legal repercussions. Despite a loss in Florida for medical marijuana, the twin victories prompted pot boosters to celebrate.
“It’s always an uphill battle to win a marijuana legalization initiative in a year like this when young people are so much less likely to vote, which makes today’s victory all the sweeter,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said. Pro-marijuana lobby groups significantly outspent opponents in Oregon, helping them win over voters who rejected a similar proposal in 2012.
The pro-pot lobby even celebrated a victory in the unlikely tropical locale of Guam, a U.S. territory that voted to allow medical marijuana on Tuesday. And a legalization measure in Alaska similar to Oregon's looked likely to pass as of Wednesday morning.
Oregon joins Washington and Colorado in permitting the sale and use of marijuana, an experiment that’s just 2 years old. The federal government still classifies pot as an illegal drug, but so far has largely allowed the states to experiment with legalization, which has brought in millions of dollars in taxed revenues. Pot shops crowd the streets of Denver, where “budtenders” legally sell marijuana-laced cookies and other treats.
In left-leaning Oregon, people will be allowed to grow and possess marijuana starting in July, giving the state eight months to devise regulations for the sale of it. In the nation’s capital, possession or cultivation of a small amount of pot will become legal in July, unless Congress tries to block the measure. The sale of pot would still remain illegal, however. The District of Columbia has had one of the highest levels of arrest rates for marijuana crimes.
"We won tonight because of the hard work of Oregon voters," Oregon pot organizer Anthony Johnson said in a victory speech. "It's a policy whose time has come."
Advocates hope California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and Arizona will join Oregon by 2016. A majority of the U.S. public now supports legalization, but older voters remain more skeptical.
The White House officially opposes decriminalizing marijuana, but President Barack Obama told The New Yorker that he thinks legalization efforts should go forward because "it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished."
Obama was referencing data that shows black men are much more likely to be prosecuted for marijuana possession than white men. Obama also told the magazine that he doesn’t believe marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.